I've had fun experiences bouncing story ideas off of fellow writers and friends, and I've even dabbled a little in co-writing (unpublished pieces). In general I've always been drawn to collaborating and sharing in writing (probably why I love doing developmental editing so much), but I've been wanting to hear from authors who actually make a co-writing process work full time.
A while ago I was lucky enough to meet Lisa Langdale and Laura Kreitzerin Napa for a gal-pal get-together and it was so much fun! Since then, I've admired from the sidelines how these two women work together seamlessly, and like many others, I'm dying to know more.
Take it away, ladies. :)
It was a sunny day in Kentucky when Laura asked Lisa to co-author a book with her. Being the smart, cunning girl she is, Laura thought ahead and buttered Lisa up with Häagen-Dazs coffee ice cream. Laughter ensued (mostly maniacal guffaws on Laura’s part).
Wine appeared the next day; Laura is nothing if not persistent. By the last drop, an agreement had been made.
A year later, our manuscript was complete.
Our most commonly asked question is “How do you write together?”
Well, it all started with the birds and the—oops! Wrong question.
Outlining, outlining, outlining.
When you’re working on a project with someone, communication is vital. Lucky for us, communication has never been a problem. Thanks to the 21st century and its cell phones, iMessaging, chat, email, Twitter, Facebook, we’re in near-constant contact (and we like it that way). But, still, a roadmap is a necessary tool.
We live in different time zones and have different schedules, and therefore we’re often writing at times when the other isn’t reachable (AKA sleeping). Without a detailed outline, we’d veer off the path and waste valuable time backtracking. Even though Laura does some outlining in her own work, she much prefers the pantser route and so compromises on all sides had to be made.
Really, the question people should ask us is: “How do you ever stop goofing off to get any real work done?” That’s the only problem we’ve run into while writing together (more on this later).
But sometimes work has to get done, and we do have some strategies.
We keep our manuscript in a Dropbox folder so it’s available to both of us (and beta readers—bless their book lovin’ hearts!) at all times. Even the scary first draft crap—which no one should ever read. We’re usually kind enough to leave warnings when certain documents should just be skipped for the time being.
In terms of actual writing, some chapters are divided between us, then we revise each other’s work: adding, deleting, leaving funny comments. There is not one paragraph that doesn’t have both of our greedy hands all over it.
The other chapters (and this is where the real fun occurs) are written together—with wine—in a Google document. We divide up the characters so each of us is responsible for dialogue and actions from those characters, making the story somewhat unpredictable at times. We know in advance where the chapter begins, what needs to happen, and where it should end, but the specifics and dialogue are mostly unknowns.
So we’re each sitting at our computers, 2,400 miles apart, anticipating how the other will respond to what “our” character just did or said. We end up having to delete a lot during this type of writing session because we have a little trouble staying serious and our scenes get a bit ridiculous. Once we rein them in, though, they end up being our favorites.
Let’s talk about editing and comment boxes for a moment, which is to say: let’s talk about goofing off (are you seeing a trend yet?).
One of the greatest perks of co-authoring, at least the way we approach it, is that it’s fun.
We have been working together for nearly five years, with Lisa being Laura’s story editor for all of her published novels, so we’ve amassed an impressive pile of inside jokes. To the casual over-the-shoulder-stalker, our comment boxes would be cause for concern, possibly even for psychiatric evaluation, but to us, they’re the fuel that keeps us sniggering like five-year-olds and persevering with our manuscript.
The creators of such boxes likely intended them for sensible notes like: “misuse of a preposition,” and every author’s dreaded comment: “show, don’t tell.” While those comments are helpful to the success of a manuscript, and we certainly have our fair share of practical editorial comments, the beauty of co-writing with your best friend is finding gems like these: (actual note taken from one of our projects)
Lola, did you know that I FREAKING LOVE YOU ??? <3
Single authors just don’t open their work in progress to find love letters! (Lola = Laura, by the way. Lisa’s secret code name is “Lucy,” but that’s a story for another blog post.)
Success, frustration, and ideas are things most writers don’t get to experience with another person. Usually writing is a solo, personal job, fraught with inner turmoil. Having time alone to create ideas is a beautiful thing, but to bring those ideas together, brainstorm, turns two okay stories into a brilliant one.
And since Laura’s written many books on her own, she understands how comforting it is to call up Lisa and express sadness or joy over a manuscript and have Lisa understand completely.
Though authors talk to each other, form groups, and make friends, the majority of them are still very alone with their manuscripts. Though some may baulk at us writing together, we love it.
About Lisa and Laura:
Lisa Langdale lives in Windsor, CA, where she spends her days working the nine-to-five while keeping her husband and daughters in line and her nights terrorizing unsuspecting characters. On the weekends, one can probably find her camping, reading (if she can hide from her kids long enough), finding new and exciting ways to help her children expel their endless supply of energy, baking, and spending time with friends and family. @LisaMLangdale
Laura Kreitzer is a best-selling fantasy and science fiction author who hails from western Kentucky. Her full-time 9-5 job used to be working in a lab devoted to water dye-tracing investigations at Western Kentucky University, though her passion was always writing. After seven years of dedicating her life to the environment, she made the tough decision to leave the university to pursue her writing career. Now Laura has two series and eight novels published, with several more in the works. @LauraKreitzer